Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NAEP Scores: National Shout-Out

As prep for a longer post I am writing on the topic of Infographics, I took a look at the NAEP State profiles for the 2011 testing year, focusing on my state, Maine, and at grade 8 in particular.

Imagine my delight when I received, the same day, a FOR IMMED. RELEASE online press release from the D.O.E. Director of Communications, David Connerty-Marin.  The headline is:

Maine up in 8th grade math; flat elsewhere


The release goes on to explain that:
  •  Maine’s scores and the percentage of students “proficient” – that is, meeting or exceeding expectations [in math and reading] – has remained largely flat.
  • “Maine has continued to show no progress in reading for far too many years.” Bowen [Commissioner of Education] said. “There is compelling scientific research about how kids learn to read, but we are not applying those methods universally.”
  • in reading in grades 4 and 8, Maine showed no statistically significant change.
As I read the data (chart and graphs shown above) and did some research,
  • I notice that the X axis units are not the same - what happens to the Reading or Mathematics score lines if the tics are identical?  These graphs can not be compared.
  • Writing is no longer tested.  So why are the NECAP writing test results from 1998-2010 not part of this article?  I want to know if those scores are improving.  Writing is, after all, the 2nd most compelling and important element of literacy, and a significant part of the state's reading test.
  • Reading in Grade 8 is not flat - it is decidedly up and down.  And in the last 2 years, it is decidedly UP.  Does this indicate that we are beginning to see some up-trending as a result of 3-5 grade efforts in literacy over the last three years? Or is it simply an indication of variable test groups and cohorts?
  • For several years, while the nation decreased in Reading, Maine improved.  What was going on?  What happened between 2007 and 2009?  (HINT: End of Local Assessments + Readicide + Economic Depression in Maine = curricular confusion at the 6-8 level.  I know - I lived through it.) 
  • a 2 point change is not significant, but a 4 point change is.  OK - so why don't the graphs mine us down to the 1 point level?  
  • It looks to me like Maine is recovering.  
Perhaps something good is already happening with Literacy in Maine.  What's so bad about that?  Mine must be a very unpopular point of view.  I wonder if anyone talks about what GOOD is happening? and Where?  and How?

But then again, data can be mined for a purpose, which may not be the purpose of the actual data.  This purpose seems to be tied to making a sound argument for funds for preK-3 Literacy development in Maine.  

Those funds and that attention to literacy are needed, but I don't understand the purpose of selling a state's progress short in order to gain funds.   Or maybe it is important to agree with the national take on the NAEP results.

It seems as of this morning that this headline is national news. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and Education Week carry it as a story.   It seems that superintendents and commissioners around the country are jumping on this story. 

The Times article is the only one to suggest some reasons for the "stagnant" reading scores.

I have heard all of these reasons before - for at least five years.  If Literacy funding can combat poor parenting, poverty, an educational system and schedule that discourages rather than encourages "deep reading," and an emphasis that is less on understanding each child's reading need than on average and aggregate scores - go for it.  But I think perhaps more programming is not the best answer.

There is far from one "scientific understanding" of how and why a child learns to read. There is no scientifically based understanding of why many children stop learning to read before middle school.  There are as many research based pedagogies and programs as there are universities, reading recovery programs, best-selling educators and teacher's colleges.  I have reviewed, worked with, or read much of this - and every single program works.  As long as it is matched to the specific needs of a specific child reader.  If you don't give children your time, they won't learn as quickly or as well. 

There is no one band-aid for reading.  Never has been.  I fear that these catch phrases - Flat Scores and "the knowledge economy of the 21st century" (Arne Duncan) - will lead to another search for the better band-aid, at the expense of some excellent child-centered practice.  I'm not sure that we are a "knowledge economy" - or that we aspire to be.  We do seem to be heading in the direction of a "knowledge-based economy."  That's knowledge, not reading ability.  They are different.

What is needed, in Maine and elsewhere, is a good long look at the districts, schools, and teachers who ARE making progress happen consistently, coupled with a data-driven look at the students with whom they work.  And states should study those math programs that are working for DC and elsewhere.  How do they work?  Why do they work?

Celebrate this and model what works.  My sense is that a little celebration will go a long way toward energizing education.

I know that SHOUTING OUT FAILURE is not going to motivate teachers - or their students.  

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